This is a list of things that I’ve seen in print, television, and film that are just wrong. If you plan on giving any character you want to appear competent, good or bad, a firearm, make sure they don’t do anything on this list.
“I saw the safety was on” and variants.
We’ll start with an easy one. This one is certainly possible to have happen, but it all depends on the type of gun. Glocks do not have a safety in the normal sense. There is a lever on the trigger. If the finger is on the trigger, the lever is pressed and there is nothing that will prevent that gun from firing if the trigger is pulled. Most autos do have a manual safety, but if you plan to use this gimmick, make sure the gun involved is one of them.
A variation of this is “the gun wasn’t cocked”. This will work with some autos and single action revolvers, but a Glock has no external hammer. There is nothing to see, cocked or not. I saw a TV show recently where the actor actually made the action of thumbing back the hammer on his Glock before advancing into the cabin. It only made it worse that Foley artists dubbed in the sound as he did it. Again, if you plan to use this in a story, double check that the gun you identify is a single action only with a visible hammer.
“I’m serious dammit!”
It’s been said that there are few sounds more recognizable or intimidating than the racking of the action on a pump shotgun. There’s probably a lot of truth to that. They even used it on an episode of Spongebob Squarepants at the start of a pillow fight. One of them picked up the pillow and squeezed the sides together to the “Chik-CHIK” sound.
Here’s the problem. A robber enters the store with a shotgun and demands that everyone hit the floor. One guy hesitates, so the robber racks the slide on the shotgun and points it at the guy who immediately sees that the robber is serious and lays down on the ground. Pumping the shotgun is done to eject the spent shell and load a live one. If the action is worked on a loaded gun, it will eject the live shell. If nothing comes out, the chamber wasn’t loaded when the guy entered the store, but it might be now. If he racks it a second time with nothing coming out, the gun cannot be loaded. I’ve seen TV crooks do this three times in a single robbery.
The same thing holds true for handguns. Pulling the slide back ejects whatever was in the chamber. Worse for the robber, if the magazine is in the gun, and empty (he’s bluffing), the slide on most autos will stay locked to the rear. They are designed this way to make reloading easier. If he does it twice and nothing is ejected, there is no magazine in the gun.
With a revolver, the threat is putting the pistol to the head of the target and cocking the gun. That moves the next round into position. When the hammer is released, that round is now at the end of the chain. Example:
Bob enters a bank and fires one round into the ceiling. He fires the next one into the security guard. He’s fired two and has four left. He tells the tellers to back away from the counter. One hesitates, so he puts the gun in her face and pulls the hammer back. She complies so he lets the hammer down. That give him three live rounds, two spent, and one live. Later, he has to show he’s serious again for the police that have the bank surrounded. Now he’s got 2 live, 2 spent, and 2 live. Someone rushes him and he fires two shots at the man, killing him. The next two times he pulls the trigger, it will fall on an empty chamber. Even though he’s only fired four times, he’s advanced the cylinder six times. Be aware of this when do this type scene.
Math is Hard
How many rounds does a revolver hold? Five to eight, but typically, six. How many times can it fire without reloading on a TV show or movie? There is often no limit. Really, count your shots. If the guy has to reload, mention it somehow.
The Empty Automatic
I’ve seen it often in TV shows. The gun battle has been raging for several minutes. The Bad guy gets the upper hand and points his custom tooled .45 ACP ad the back of the head of the Hero and pulls the trigger.
The gun was empty and the killer didn’t know. No. He knew. He had to know. When the last round is fired from nearly every modern semi auto pistol, the slide will lock in the open position. This allows the shooter to know to reload, and the gun to chamber the next round from the new magazine without the shooter needed to rack the slide again. Even if the slide is locked back, it still won’t click. The clicking sound is the hammer falling on an empty chamber. If the slide is back, the hammer can’t fall. There is no click. The only possible way this can happen (other than a malfunction of the gun) is that the magazine has been removed. What actually locks the slide back is a part of the magazine lifting something in the gun. If the magazine has one or more rounds in it, or if it’s missing, the slide will drop normally. But, there’s a catch.
In most autos, not having a magazine means only that they are limited to the one round still in the chamber. Certain Smith and Wesson semi-autos, and possibly a few others have a ‘safety’ that will not allow the gun to fire if the magazine is absent. I’ve heard a few reasons for this, but the one I hear most is that it was intended for law enforcement. If the officer is fighting for his gun and about to lose it, he can drop the magazine and be assured that the bad guy will not be able to shoot him with his own gun. I’m not sure if that is the real reason or not.
Silencers do not turn the ear splitting report of a handgun into a dull “pfumpf” noise inaudible to someone in the next room. They are more accurately called suppressors, and they reduce the noise level anywhere from a little to a lot. Basically they allow the gun to be fired without a ringing in the ears afterward.
Now, it is true that the sound will be altered to the point that people in a hotel lobby may not realize that what they heard was a gunshot, but the armed guard 20 feet away will hear it and probably come to check it out.
There have been some totally silent guns made. The suppressors for these are huge; like a 2 liter soda bottle. The action of the gun is locked in place, to the weapon becomes a single shot. The ammunition is also made to be subsonic to eliminate the crack of the bullet as it flies. These were known a “hush puppies” and were intended for the removal of guard dogs.
This is more of a TV/movie one, but it might turn up in print. A person shot with a big gun is blown off his feet and across the room. No. Just no. The momentum of the bullet imparted to the target can’t be any more than the bullet has in the first place. The original momentum is split between the bullet and the recoil, so the impact on the target will be about what you see on the shooter when the gun goes off. There is a whole lot of math behind this, but the basic outcome is that it’s wrong. The force of impact from something like a shotgun will move the target back about an inch.
Bullets don’t spark
Okay, the steel core AP rounds might, but most are lead or copper coated lead. They don’t spark when they hit stuff. If they happen to hit steel, they are still too soft to make a spark, though they may deform the steel.
I may come back to add more as I see them, or think of them.